Quick spoilers for last night’s Big Love follow:
The second episode of Big Love‘s final season continued to deal with the fallout of Bill’s decision to take the family public. And as he alluded to in his Bible reading with his son at the beginning of the episode, openness turns out to be no cure-all: it doesn’t bring instant acceptance, it doesn’t overcome old grievances, and, as the members of the Henrickson family discovered repeatedly, it does not erase the hurts of the past.
Bill’s radical move at the end of last season was something of a trust fall: he was asking his family to have faith that his decision was correct, and in turn, was placing his faith that others would respond in a certain way once they saw him to be a decent family man. Last night, he continued to discover that he may have been wrong on both counts. Politically, his attempt to enlist a local representative—for whom Barb used to babysit—not only failed but backfired, as it turned out that he and his lifestyle are too radioactive for a friendly dinner and an old childhood connection to overcome. Meanwhile, as he attempted to recover by showing that he could negotiate progress with the various polygamist compounds in the state, he discovered, disastrously, that they felt no obligation to him for having stuck his neck out; the conference dissolved amid recriminations and old grievances, given the slightest of pushes from a cunning Alby.
Old grievances and wounds were largely the theme of the episode. Barb’s sense of loss and spiritual unmooring stem partly from her disaffection with her marriage and with her place as a woman in it (hence her rebellious attempt to give Margene a blessing, a right that tradition reserves to men). But it also has roots that go way, way back, to her sense of betrayal by her mother—who, we learn, has her own history of being seen as an apostate to her community, stemming back to the Betty Ford incident. Nicki, meanwhile is trying to remake herself, and distance herself from the compound, by joining Bill in his reform effort, but that doesn’t keep her from still being seen as a polygamist Victoria Gotti, the mob boss’s daughter.
And Margene, long the most fragile of the three wives, now seems to be in full-on crisis, having lost the support and validation she got from her job and now, she worries, being on the verge of losing Ana as well. Her precarious state, established frighteningly in her bizarre behavior during her desperate meeting with Ana, is only underscored by her returning to the site of her childhood home and finding it gone. She escaped a dysfunctional childhood young, and in a way, the rest of his life looks like an attempt to grab on anything that might be solid—plural marriage, the casino, home-shopping sales, and now multi-level marketing for some specious-sounding miracle juice.
Each member of the Henrickson marriage would be in a rough enough spot to begin with; what makes matters worse is that they are getting little comfort from each other—see Nicki seizing on Barb’s rebellions to ask Bill to “bring her in line”—and their tension culminated in an uncomfortable showdown in an incongruously Christmas-cheery Home Plus. Nor can they find much comfort from their extended families. In particular, we saw each of the four spouses turning to their mothers and finding no comfort, as the previous generation is either a burden (Bill and Nicki) or a source of fresh hurt (Barb). (Or, in Margene’s case, irrevocably gone, leaving unresolvable pain in her absence.) Cara Lynn, meanwhile, is becoming involved in something of a tug-of-war between her own mothers, with Nicki and Margene in particular urging her in different directions in ways that make clear that they are projecting their own past struggles onto her.
As we reach the end of the episode, it has become clear that Bill’s Hail Mary has left him and his family in an awful position, and he sees no way out. It’s at times like this when a family—especially one that is under attack precisely for being a family—needs to pull together, but it’s not clear that the Henricksons, and their own various families, can do that. As Barb’s mother says, “There’s a vast difference between ‘I need you, Mommy’ and ‘I need something from you.’” But either way, in this episode, those requests, over and over again, went unfulfilled.